Years and years ago, back when I was working as a personal trainer, I’d often train people in groups. That is, me as the trainer and then 2-5 others all working out together under my guidance. They may have been friends who wanted to workout together. They may have been mum’s who trained together after school drop-off. They may have been colleagues who would train together on the way to work. Whatever the case, it was common to have a group of people to train together rather than just a one-on-one session.
Now, economics was often part of that decision. It was cheaper for those who were being trained to split the cost across a group than for an individual session. But even greater reasoning was the aspects of motivation, accountability, and having fun together. There was something about training together that made the experience of fitness work more enjoyable. There was something about training together that provided better results because clients were spurred on by one-another to do the work.
As I continue to write about Bible reading in 2023 this got me thinking about what it means to read the Bible in community.
Reading the Bible on our own over and over and over again is not an easy thing to do. We may wish to have it be a delight rather than a duty but there can come a point, perhaps even 3 days into some new Bible reading plan whereby we get a little lost in what we’re doing. We get a little deflated because reading the Bible can be a hard exercise and discipline to do on our own. We get confused by what we’re reading and can’t understand what’s going on. We can quickly become unmotivated to do what we set out to do because we don’t have anyone around to encourage us.
Like group fitness sessions we gain motivation and encouragement from reading the Bible with others. In fact, throughout the course of Christian history the Bible has been read in community, whether it has been spoken to a group, shared with others in public, or remembered through story around the table. The Bible is a book to read communally.
Even if we think about Paul’s letters for a moment, they are all written with the view of being read to all in a public setting. Before the printing press the Bible would be read aloud in churches by the clergy. And it really is a modern phenomenon that the Bible has been able to be read privately on the comfort of our couch.
But there are key advantages to reading the Bible in community, reading the Bible with someone else or in a small group. Below I’ve outlined five of these and I’m sure you’d be able to come up with more..
First, reading the Bible in community means more people need to listen.
When we read the Bible alone and for ourselves then we really have to concentrate on what is being read. Of course, this needs to be the case with another person too, but when we read in community we have more people around to help us listen to the Word. Each person hearing the Word will listen differently and listen to the reading in different ways. The more people listening to the Bible being read can only be a good thing. As the Word is read or heard the Spirit works within, and the more ears to hear provides greater opportunity for depth in conversation.
Second, reading the Bible in community means there can be conversation.
When you read alone you can only have a conversation with yourself. Of course, the Lord is there with you and you can be in prayer about the passage with him. But in reality there are more times than not whereby we read the passage and then move onto the next task, rather than dwelling on it and thinking through what is being said. When reading with another there is opportunity to have a conversation about what is being heard. There is the chance to actually talk about issues of life and faith with another. There is a mutual encouragement and growth that comes from this kind of conversation, hearing perspective, ideas, and thoughts about a passage of scripture.
Third, reading the Bible in community means there are different perspectives given.
Linked to the conversation aspect of this is the hearing of different perspectives. More often than not these are helpful. If you’ve ever been in a small group where there are one or two who think they have the answers for everyone else then I will admit this can get awfully tiresome awfully quickly. Some perspectives are not worth sharing. But in my experience there is more benefit than not in hearing how others are reading the scriptures and listening to what is being said through them.
And as a quick sidenote, if this group is intergenerational then I think this provides even more perspective due to life experiences and maturity in the faith.
Fourth, reading the Bible in community means there is mutual encouragement for one another.
Christians love to use the word accountability and I’m deliberately avoiding that in this post. It’s such a Christianise word. I prefer to think reading the Bible together, particularly when it is with someone else or only 3-4 people as being mutually encouraging. I still remember going through university reading Romans with two other people and gaining such encouragement from the wisdom, insight, and teaching from the people I was with. Reading the Bible in a community like this can be so formative and encouraging, even years later.
Fifth, reading the Bible in community means we recognise its power and authority.
Whenever we come to the Bible as God’s revealed truth to us then we are recognising its authority and power over us. Through the Word of God the Holy Spirit reveals more of God to us. It is an exercise in humility to submit to the Lord through listening and obeying his Word. In community this becomes even more powerful as the group discerns what is being said together and reflects on its meaning and application in their own lives. Through the conversation that flows there is often encouragement in faith and encouragement in life–to keep on in the scriptures and in obedience to God.
Well, it seems I’ve begun the year and a return to writing regularly by focussing on Bible reading. There could be worse topics to write about, couldn’t there? In any case, if you like to catch up on some of the posts that focus on reading the Bible then feel free to browse along: